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Tuesday, 6 December 1960

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK (Parramatta) (Attorney-General) (2:15 AM) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to increase the salaries of Her Majesty's Justices of the High Court of Australia. The present salaries, last dealt with in 1955, are - Chief Justice £8,000 a year, and each puisne justice £6,500 a year. It is proposed to set these salaries at - Chief Justice £10,000 a year and each puisne Justice £8,500 a year.

The High Court of Australia is the constitutional court of the Commonwealth, that is to say, it is the only court established by the Constitution itself and thus the only court dealt with in this bill. It performs as itself an organ of the national government, the supreme judicial task of the interpretation and the safeguarding of the Federal Constitution. Not merely does this function call for consumate knowledge of the Constitution, its history and its past construction, but also for great judgment of a practical kind. The decisions of the court on constitutional questions carry great consequences for the people of Australia as a whole, and indeed form part of the history of the nation, not merely of its developing law. In addition, the High Court, unlike in this respect the Supreme Court of the United States, has a general appellate jurisdiction throughout the whole range of the law from other federal courts and from the Supreme Courts of the States. One has only to glance through the voluminous Commonwealth law reports to be alerted to the wide spread of knowledge and experience, and of practical judgment, required of the members of this great court.

The problem of setting appropriate salaries for the judiciary is never easily resolved. Many factors must be weighed, such as the need to attract the most able men when still at the height of their careers in the legal profession, the need to secure to the Bench financial independence and freedom from pecuniary anxiety, the need to reflect the prestige of the court and a sense of justice in the remuneration for the work required to be done. In addition, some questions of relativity arise. Whilst the Government does not think that judicial salaries should be varied with any frequency, or with any particular reference to changes in the wage levels or structure in industry, it cannot overlook an altered level of remuneration in the community generally and, perhaps, particularly the changes in the salaries of the statutory officers. In this connexion it should be recalled that Judges have not been included in the adjustments made since 1955 in the salaries of Commonwealth officers and that by the Salaries (Statutory Officers) Adjustment Act 1960, passed earlier this year, salaries of some of the most senior statutory office holders were increased to £6,900 a year.

Even more significantly, the salaries of the Judges of the Supreme Courts of some of the States of the Commonwealth have been outstanding and several times increased since 1955. I shall mention in a moment the amounts of these salaries to enable comparison to be made. But let me at once say that the Supreme Courts of the States are great courts carrying heavy responsibilities over wide fields of law, finally settling the greater number of the controversies in point of fact between citizens. However, not only are many constitutional cases beyond their competence, but the High Court is a general court of appeal in respect of the decisions of the Supreme Courts of the States. It is in the Government's view intolerable that salaries of any of the Judges of the Supreme Court should be larger than those of the Justices of the High Court. The present position is that in comparison with the salaries payable in the States of New South Wales and Victoria the salaries of the Justices of the High Court, with the exception of the Chief Justice, are less than the effective salaries of the Supreme Court Judges. With the concurrence of honorable members. I incorporate in "Hansard" a table which shows the movement of the respective salaries over the last five years. It is as follows: -


In making these comparisons, it must be borne in mind that the allowances paid by the States are intended to be free of tax and in fact are deductible for purposes of taxation without any vouching of their expenditure.

As I have sard, the Government does not desire that there should be frequent changes in< judicial salaries, and in particular does not desire that this movement should be in any particular sense related to changes in wages payable in industry. It therefore hopes that the- present levels of salary will, endure for a. substantial period of years in the future. Weighing all the factors involved, the Government: has decided to ask the Parliament, to set by this statute what it considers to be proper levels of remunera-tion for the justices of the High Court of Australia. These figures I have already mentioned:

The only other matter I need to mention is that the Government decided that the new salaries should take effect from 1st October, 1960. Pressure of other business prevented this legislation from being introduced earlier, but the bill provides accordingly. I commend it to honorable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.

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